Death Makes You Vomit


It’s time to make THOSE decisions. Who do I want in the room during my final moments? What do I want in the memorial?

When my brother-in-law Jerome was walking with his wife through her breast cancer death, he shared a tiny bit of the bizarreness that was created. Jerome’s belated wife, Beatrice, was a clear thinking straight shooter who knew how to call a spade a spade. She was worldly, sophisticated and down-to-earth, authentic and socially intelligent. Beatrice’s death was my first. I barely knew her. I’d been to her wedding and she to mine.  My oldest was a baby and hers were toddlers when we picnicked on the coast of Ireland together.  We shared a few family holidays.

But we weren’t close.

 

Beatrice’s death was my first. I barely knew her. I’d been to her wedding and she to mine. We’d celebrated some holidays and enjoyed amazing picnics along the Irish coast. I felt connected to her because we were raising young children fathered by young brothers and both living multinational lives. She was my age, my mirror.I was terribly awkward and naïve throughout her cancer journey and her death, a tourist on the periphery who somehow got an invite to very exclusive and intimate event.

I was terribly awkward and naïve throughout her cancer journey and her death, a tourist on the periphery who somehow got an invite to very exclusive and intimate event. The Lepeintres and the Klingsheims are a solid, wise bunch. There are core values of loyalty, of protecting those closest. Do no harm, if at all possible. Enjoy the moment life offers and leave the drama outside of the family meal space. There’s a magic in the family relationships we weave. We can use them to build shelters, refuges against the turmoil of the rest of our lives. But we can also tangle ourselves up in them, strangle ourselves. I remember (or maybe I misremember) a comment my brother-in-law Jerome made when Beatrice’s health was failing. I think I was pressuring Francois to go visit. (Francois had better sense than I). Jerome told me that Beatrice and he had talked and she didn’t want some sort of long parade of sad people at her door in the last months, trying to make a connection that hadn’t already happened.

There’s a magic in the family relationships we weave. We can use them to build shelters, refuges against the turmoil of the rest of our lives. But we can also tangle ourselves up in them, strangle ourselves.

I remember (or maybe I misremember) a comment my brother-in-law Jerome made when his wife Beatrice’s health was failing. I think I was pressuring Francois to go visit. (Francois had better sense than I). Jerome told me that Beatrice and he had talked and she didn’t want some sort of long parade of sad people at her door in the last months, trying to make a connection that hadn’t already happened.I so totally get that now. It was even rather obvious then. Who wants to spend their final months on earth surrounded by death and grief and moaning of sad people only peripherally connected to you?

My therapist pointed out that there can be great connection in these moments of vulnerability. I’m so lucky to be able to say that I have that and I expect to continue to experience that. Each one of you here offer me those rich insights into our shared humanity, a touch of love and heart. In some deeper , longer relationships, there’s some reconciliation, an aligning of perspectives, between what is being experienced/has been experienced by a person you love and what you have perceived. It rings with the truth of a tuning fork when you find those moments. You can hear the overtones of understanding.

I’m not avoiding sharing. And I’m pretty good at vulnerability. I’m just choosy about which experiences I want to invest in and expand and which experiences I’m ready to seek closure in.

We all are.

At least we should be.

Death steals all of your time, even while you are still living. It tangles my mind and weakens my body. It cements me with wet layers of horribly big heavy emotions. And that’s not even considering the physical impacts.

My mother used her every last breath and ounce of energy to try and leave her daughters in a good space. Mom wanted everyone to feel as good as possible around her. It was a loving and true gift.
But it was also horrific. She insisted on trying to make one last trip with us, her daughters, for mother’s day (or was it Memorial Day?)and spent the entire trip throwing up in the car and pasting on a smile and talking about how beautiful the area was, how gorgeous the flowers were. We were like children bringing our parents breakfast in bed, burnt toast, smeared jelly and horribly oversweet chocolate milk. She sat through our road trip rituals and smiled to show us how much we mattered, that we’d done well with our little excursion. She swayed greenly and vomited out the side of the car every 20 minutes or so. By the time we arrived at our Mother’s Day/Girls’ Weekend Getaway she’d soiled every piece of clothing she had.

So this is to my friends and family. I’m just going to tell you.  YOU DID GOOD.  You were such a support for my soul, for my life. I’ve had such a great time growing, loving and learning with you. Let’s just look for those smiles, shared experiences in pictures and memories. Let’s live like we’re going to all keep on living and not try to cram vomit trips in.

And for my loved ones who might feel pushed away… I can’t even imagine the loss. But isn’t there some quote about death waiting for no one? We’ve lived our lives together for years. We are what we are, we’ve done the best we can and it’s been amazing. But dying steals time. My brain doesn’t process quickly or correctly. My tasks are buried under mountainous emotional weight. I need more and more time and more and more space. It means I’m going to have less.

But never less love for you.

I’m not done living yet.

I’m going to live as if I’m living long enough to take it for granted, just as we’ve always done.  We’ll take each day and enjoy its gifts.  And if there was some magic moment or experience you didn’t get or couldn’t find, I have a really really great therapist I can recommend.  🙂  Seriously.

(So please don’t make me vomit, OK? 😉
And keep those cards, lunch invites and emails coming.

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6 thoughts on “Death Makes You Vomit”

  1. Beautifully said. You have such a gift. Its been a pleasure reading your blog. You give us insight on how best to love someone through a terrible time. I was with my mother in law at her passing and it was a Beautiful gift. She passed peacefully and her spirit lifted out. As her spirit went where ever beaufutul and kind spirits go, she sent unspoken messages of love and acceptance to each of us. I think of you often amd admire your tenacity, acceptance, fight, vulnerability and openness. You continue to amaze me.

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  2. Suzy, what can I say? So many people try to say just the right thing. I feel blessed to have had you as a teacher, mentor and friend. From the first day we met at Samena to being so very lucky to have you for such an interesting English class, you have taught me so much. Thank you!
    P.S. I have moved to Arizona and will be attending ASU for my Bachelors in Recreational Therapy.

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  3. My sweet, childhood friend Suzy, I want you to know how much I wish for you and your loved ones, all the time in the world to live out your great life. I’m grateful for your gift of writing and sharing your story so fearlessly. You give me courage as I read through my tears. Your impact is deep and far reaching. You, my dear, are a gift to me and to many others. Sending you love, comfort and peace, Lisa 😘

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